ATHENS, Oct. 31 (Xinhua) -- Greek media launched rolling 24-hour anti-austerity strikes on Wednesday, as the government was due to present the 2013 budget draft and face a key vote in parliament on the privatization program.
Unions representing journalists and technicians in dailies, magazines, television and radio channels called for the mobilization over the government's last-minute plan on Tuesday evening to include the merging of their pension and healthcare funds into the National Organization for Healthcare Provision (EOPYY), as part of the bill which is put to vote on Wednesday.
Strikers gathered outside the parliament building chanting anti-austerity slogans and waving banners to protest the "unfairness."
They argued that due to their higher contributions and better management in comparison to other funds, theirs are healthy and will be damaged if included in the EOPYY.
The protest was held as lawmakers were about to hold a crucial roll call vote on the process of privatizations of public utilities in the future, as part of the efforts to raise revenues, slash deficits and exit the debt crisis which threatens the country with financial collapse since late 2009.
The vote is considered as a crucial first test for the four-month government coalition ahead of more significant votes next week on the 2013 draft budget and the austerity package requested by international creditors before the release of new bailout loans in November to avert a Greek default.
The junior moderate Democratic Left coalition partner of conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras stands by its objection to aspects of the privatization bill and austerity measures, while deputies of the socialist PASOK party have also warned they would vote down the bills.
As Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras was due to submit to the parliament the 2013 draft budget and present it, residents of northern cities joined journalists in central Athens protesting the 40-percent increase on the cost of heating fuel this fall compared to last year which "condemns thousands households to freezing cold."
The two umbrella unions of private and public sector workers GSEE and ADEDY have called for a new anti-austerity rally in Athens later on Wednesday ahead of a fresh general strike planned for next week.
As protests culminate, government ministers warn that without a sealed austerity and reform package by a Eurogroup meeting on Nov. 12, Greece will not be granted with the vital 31.5-billion-euro (40.9-billion-U.S. dollar) aid tranche from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund lenders who keep the country afloat.